Three memorial bridges dedicated in Milo

MILO — Three Milo residents who died in service of their country during the Vietnam War have been memorialized with the naming of bridges in their honor. 

Overpasses over the Pleasant, Piscataquis and Sebec rivers were formally dedicated during ceremonies on Saturday, Oct. 1 with signs for each located at both ends of the trio of bridges.

The James Ellingson Memorial Bridge spans the Pleasant River with a new overpass located next to the old one honoring a U.S. Army warrant officer and helicopter pilot who died in a crash on Jan. 18, 1969, at age 20. 

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
MEMORIAL BRIDGE — Milo Public Works Foreman Michael Conley removes the sign covering for the newly named Henry “Butch” Heal Memorial Bridge over the Sebec River in downtown Milo as Heal’s family members watch. On Saturday the town formally dedicated three bridges to memorialize a trio of residents who died in service of their country during the Vietnam War.

Ellingson’s older brother David told the crowd gathered on the western side of the bridge that it was great to be back in his hometown. “I think each one of those young men touched all of our hearts. We all knew them,” he said. “This is a small town and all three of them died in just a short period of time, which was a tragic event.”

With the family living a short ways away on Pleasant Street, David Ellingson said it was fitting that this bridge be named in his brother’s honor.

“He displayed a distinguished level of courage and excellence in everything that he did,” Ellingson said. 

He said helicopter pilots were the lifeblood of those serving on the ground in Vietnam.

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
PLEASANT RIVER BRIDGE — The new Pleasant River Bridge in Milo has been named in memory of James Ellingson, who lived nearby with his family. Pictured at the Oct. 1 dedication ceremony are Ellingson’s brothers David, right, and Johnny, second from right along with his wife Carla, and Milo Town Manager Robert Canney.

“I reflect on all three of them,” Ellingson said, remarking the pain of loss is embedded in his heart. “Not just my brother because they all meant something to us. We all had a connection to them.”

Ellingson said his Milo High School classmate Steve Hamlin reached out after a presentation to the Milo Select Board last year asking the town to consider naming the three bridges for three young men who gave their lives for their country. The select board agreed and the request moved to Augusta where the Maine Legislature formally named each.

James Earl Ellingson graduated from Milo High School in 1968 and soon after enlisted in the U.S. Army. He went to Fort Rucker in Alabama for flight training and was able to come home after. His brother said he took him to Bangor for a flight to Vietnam to start his tour on Sept. 23, the last time the two would see each other.

Ellingson’s helicopter was shot down on Jan. 18, 1969, less than four months after he was in the country, his brother pointed out. David Ellingson — who at the time was a University of Maine student — said at first his family was told James was missing in action but later learned he had been killed in the line of duty.

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom WAYNE SANGILLO MEMORIAL BRIDGE — Family members of Wayne Sangillo stand next to a memorial sign placed in his honor at the Milo bridge spanning the Piscataquis River. Sangillo died in the line of duty while serving with the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam in 1968.

“These fine young men are deserving of this honor and I really hope the Milo Historical Society writes some things up about these young men because they weren’t very old,” Ellingson said. “They didn’t have a long history in which we can reflect on.”

Across town, drivers heading to and from LaGrange and beyond on Route 6 will see they are crossing the Piscataquis River on the Wayne Sangillo Memorial Bridge. Sangillo was a U.S. Marine Corps Pvt. 1st Class who died in combat on Nov. 18, 1968, at age 21 less than a month into his tour.

Tony Hamlin of the Milo Select Board said the bridge now named in Sangillo’s honor will be reconstructed starting in the summer of 2023. He said with the Pleasant River bridge named in Ellingson’s honor, the Piscataquis River bridge was chosen for Sangillo.

“We knew his family was in Bangor so every time they came into town they crossed it,” Hamlin said. He said Sangillo turned 21 less than two months before he lost his life.

The Sebec River bridge in downtown Milo has been named for Henry “Butch” Heal, a U.S. Army private first class who died in combat on April 22, 1968, several days shy of his 21st birthday.

Hamlin said in 2025 the bridge will be rebuilt but the expanse will keep its name to honor Heal.

Heal’s son Jamie Mulherin said his father died 54 years ago, the same age the son is now. Mulherin said he never knew his father, but “I rely on everybody here to tell me about my father” and what he hears “brings him to life to me every day.”

Mulherin said he feels fortunate to live in Washington, D.C., near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and can see the name of his own blood on the wall.

The name on the bridge will serve as a legacy of the elder Heal by being there for future generations. “When we’re long gone people are going to see his name up here, and that means more than I could possibly say,” Mulherin said.

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